What is real food?
There’s a lot of popular talk about eating real food these days, but what does that actually mean? Real food ultimately refers to being as close to the natural state as possible, not processed, sprayed with pesticides, pumped/fed antibiotics, hormones, include lab made ingredients, etc.
Eating real food will require a shift in thinking and you’ll have to redefine what and why you are eating something. Does it make you feel good? Is it nourishing? Is it made from simple, fresh ingredients?
Making this switch also means buying more whole food ingredients, which means you’ll be cooking a bit more, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as cutting up some veggies, tossing on some seasoning & olive oil and roasting in the oven, cooking up some easy eggs for breakfast or batching homemade breakfast waffles once a month.
You might be mixing some store-bought pre-made foods with some homemade foods to make this process easier. In fact, I still do this, and there are a lot more options out there for healthy, simple ingredient pre-made pieces for your meals.
The best tip is just to start with one meal (or even a snack period) and decide how often & what food you want to switch to get started. For example, maybe you pick up fast food breakfast two days a week, so you could try changing those two days to homemade eggs, avocado & organic toast for a quick egg sandwich instead of eating take out for that meal. Or perhaps you eat potato chips every afternoon – try changing this snack to something more wholesome & filling like cashews or a grass-fed beef stick. Another good, easy win is to cut back on processed, artificially flavored creamer or cane sugar in your coffee every day, or maybe you replace with a splash of honey and half+half as your clean swap.
The point is to go heavy on wholesome, real foods and minimize processed foods with harmful ingredients packed into them like GMO crops (sprayed with pesticides), unhealthy fats/oils, excess sugar & sweeteners, conventional meats pumped with hormones, antibiotics and fed cheap grains that were farmed with pesticides. Think of your body as your car and fill it with good clean fuel so that it will run properly and not get slowed down trying to process stuff that it wasn’t made to process.
Alrighty, let’s run through some different types of real foods so you know what to look for at the store as you begin to buy & replace some foods.
(Referring to easily found meats like Beef, Poultry, Lamb, Pork, but can be wild game)
What to Eat: The best meat to eat is the kind from animals that have been raised on grass out in the sun and eating the grass (and even insects) in their natural + organic environment. Best to stick to grass-fed & finished beef and USDA organic poultry when possible.
What to avoid: Conventional Meats that are fed GMO corn & grains (which are covered in pesticides to promote more growth at a cheaper cost), pumped with antibiotics and possibly growth hormones.
The FDA allows antibiotics to be used in cattle, but they do have limitations on levels and are randomly tested by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. Fines and prison time are possible if the animal is found to have higher than permitted levels.
For poultry, “no antibiotics ever” and “never given antibiotics,” mean that no antibiotics of any sort were given to the animal while it was raised. Some animals that become sick, may require antibiotics. Those animals would be taken out of the “no antibiotics” line and sent to be with other animals that are raised & processed under conventional conditions.
What to Eat: Wild caught. Ingredients should indicate only the type of seafood (i.e. salmon, nothing else)
What to avoid: Farm raised fish because they can be higher in contaminants and disease due to farming conditions.
What to Eat: The best eggs are USDA organic, pasture raised Eggs. The next best are USDA organic eggs. Organic will mean that the animals are not treated with antibiotics or hormones and given organic feed.
What to avoid: Conventional eggs. These might be the cheapest, but typically the animals are not treated well, they are fed grains that were grown with lots of pesticides (you are what you eat eats), so typically have less nutrients and more toxins.
(Milk, cheeses, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, cream cheese)
What to eat: Full fat from grass-fed and/or USDA organic cows/goats/sheep. Ingredients should have minimal ingredients.
What to avoid: Low-fat and fat-free. These typically have additives in place of the missing fat to make them taste better. Examples are gums, fillers, sweeteners, syrups and more, which are not good for you.
Fruits and Veggies
What to eat: Organic if it’s listed on the dirty dozen list from the EWG. If it’s not on the dirty dozen, you can stay on budget by purchasing non-organic. Check pricing though because sometimes organic doesn’t cost much more, and you can have peace of mind knowing it’s cleaner than non-organic.
What to avoid: Don’t eat non-organic if it falls under the dirty dozen list, as that means it is probably contaminated with pesticides.
2020 EWG Dirty Dozen:
2020 EWG Clean 15:
- Sweet Corn*
- Sweet Peas Frozen
- Honeydew Melon
The EWG indicates that “* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.” Always check the EWG site for the latest information on clean & dirty produce listings.
Grains and Legumes
What to eat: Simple, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. If you can access USDA organic grains, do so. If buying anything wheat, buy USDA organic.
What to avoid: When buying any of these products, check the ingredients – there should really only be one ingredient when possible. Avoid unnecessary preservatives, caking agents, gums, fillers, seasonings, etc.
What to Eat: Good fats such as butter from grass-fed cows, unrefined coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, lard and tallow.
What to Avoid: Processed vegetable and seed oils like canola, sunflower and soybean (one exception would be high-oleic, heat stable or cold-pressed varieties). Also avoid imitation butters like margarine, spray /squeeze “butters”, etc.
What to eat: Natural, unrefined salt like Himalayan Pink Salt and Sea Salts.
What to avoid: Salts that have been stripped of their nourishing minerals. When some salts are processed, they remove “impurities” to create a uniform white color, which also removes the nutrients.
What to eat: Select natural sweeteners like raw honey (local is best), pure maple syrup. Some other options include coconut sugar, stevia, monk fruit, erythritol and xylitol when used sparingly.
What to avoid: Avoid refined cane sugars because they lack nutrients and can cause the body to empty its own supply of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Eating a diet high in sugar will also suppress the immune system. Watch out for syrups in ingredients too, like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and brown rice syrups. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose should also be avoided. These have been shown in animal studies to cause weight gain, and are linked to brain tumors and bladder cancer. And they’ve been linked to cancer in humans.